Peanut allergies are on the rise and they can cause serious reactions, including anaphylaxis. If you’re expecting a baby, you may be wondering if there’s anything you can do to reduce your child’s risk for developing this potentially serious allergy.

One common concern is whether eating peanuts or peanut products while pregnant is safe for your baby. Will that make the baby more likely to have a peanut allergy, or will exposure to peanuts during pregnancy offer some protection?

The truth is scientists are working on ways to predict which children are more likely to have a peanut allergy, but there is no known way to prevent an allergy from developing. Here’s what you should know about peanuts and peanut allergies if you’re pregnant.

Allergies to peanuts and tree nuts are among the most common food allergies in the United States. Symptoms may include:

  • a tingling in the mouth
  • stomach cramps or nausea
  • hives
  • difficulty breathing
  • swelling of the tongue
  • anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is the most serious reaction and can be life-threatening. If anaphylactic shock occurs, a person’s blood pressure drops, airways constrict, the heart rate accelerates, and the pulse becomes weak. Severe nausea and vomiting can also result. Call 911 immediately if someone appears to be experiencing anaphylaxis.

If someone has been diagnosed with a peanut allergy, he or she should carry an automatic epinephrine injector (EpiPen) when going out. Epinephrine is a key medication used in the treatment of anaphylaxis. The device should also be in easy reach at home. Sometimes exposure to peanuts or peanut products in the air is enough to produce a reaction.

Usually, a peanut allergy is diagnosed within the first two years of life. However, depending on exposure, the allergy may not present itself until much later. If you suspect that your child has a peanut allergy, be sure to see an allergist for testing.

An allergist may recommend a skin prick test that deposits a tiny amount of peanut protein under the skin, or a blood test. If the results are inconclusive, the allergist may recommend removing peanut or peanut products from the diet for two to four weeks. This “elimination diet” can help determine if removing peanuts improves symptoms.

If you’re not allergic to peanuts, you should feel safe consuming them during pregnancy. If you do have an allergy to peanuts or any food, you should avoid them at all times. Remember that peanuts may be hiding in a variety of foods, including:

  • chocolate products and candy
  • Asian cuisine
  • cereals
  • granola bars
  • other items processed in places that also process peanut products

Peanuts are actually a smart food choice for pregnant women. They contain protein and folate. Folate and folic acid supplements are recommended during pregnancy to help prevent birth defects, particularly of the developing brain and spine.

Of course, your sense of smell and your taste preferences may change significantly during pregnancy. If peanuts aren’t agreeing with you, then find other sources of protein and folate. Folic acid supplements may be recommended, regardless of your regular diet.

Peanut allergies, like other allergies, tend to run in families. Not long ago, the thinking was that if someone in your family had a peanut allergy, you should avoid peanuts during pregnancy. Peanut consumption during pregnancy is now considered safe if the mother has no peanut allergy, regardless of family history.

Allergy experts state that while children often outgrow allergies to milk and eggs, peanut allergies along with tree nut allergies are more likely to be lifelong.

The 2017 guidelines from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases recommend that all children with severe eczema or an egg allergy be considered high risk for peanut allergy. They should be seen by an allergy specialist for further evaluation and testing.

If you have any questions about foods during pregnancy, consult with a nutritionist who specializes in working with expectant mothers. Your healthcare provider may also be a good resource. Pregnancy can be a wonderful but anxious time. Whenever you have concerns, seek out the answers so that you can enjoy these months as much as possible.